What Does Quiet Luxury Really Mean?
Three experts – Succession’s costume designer, a fashion writer, and the director and chief curator of MoMu – explain the codes and appeal of sumptuous discretion
Photography by Jen Carey
Fashion by Tess Pisani
No fashion movement has captured the social consciousness quite like “quiet luxury” in recent years. This mood – also referred to as “stealth wealth” – refers to the surge in attention for expensive, minimalist designs that don’t necessarily follow seasons or trends, embodied by the cashmere tracksuits at Loro Piana, logoless baseball caps by Brunello Cucinelli or oversized yet sharp tailoring from The Row. Here, we speak to three experts on what quiet luxury means to them, and how it fits into today’s culture.
MICHELLE MATLAND, Succession costume designer
“The values of quiet luxury are the relaxed, less obvious way of expressing wealth. It is a great deal about the quality of garments: hand-stitching, refined buttonholes, beautiful tailoring, shirts that are hand-cut to a person’s body. The essence is that it’s created for the individual.
When we were researching for Succession, we looked through publications, but we also did a lot of on-hand shopping, observing people who had come out of luxury cars and into stores, watching what they were drawn to, what their eye leaned toward and what they avoided. Even in a high-end store, certain items were never touched – they avoided the frivolous. But a more substantial item such as a simple crewneck, three-ply cashmere sweater was something they all went for.
Every character on the show was reconfigured in every episode, depending on the structure of the storyline. But they also all had something that was very iconic to them, that epitomized their style: Kendall’s Gucci jacket, which was the epitome of absurd luxury, or his Loro Piana suede jacket, and Shiv’s Max Mara or Ralph Lauren suits, which channeled the traditional, all-American high waisted Katharine Hepburn look.
I think the reason quiet luxury has resonated with viewers and consumers is that we have had so many identifiable markings – the big double Gs, the YSL lettering – and people had gotten to a point where they were looking for something with which they could represent themselves without having a logo attached to them.
There’s something to be said for restraint, in terms of a classic look, the old Americana, which is what the Roy family represent. I think the whole point of quiet luxury is to be classically unobtainable and perfect. Everything should be completely refined, but we don’t actually live like that because we have a culture of excess. So, to be able to do that, to have this sleek car that has nothing on it, like a Tesla – that is very much of the culture right now.
In the time between Succession airing its final moments and now, quiet luxury has probably changed tremendously. I think the essence of what was that luxe moment has moved to yet another realm, with a younger crowd coming in, doing the same thing but with a more modern point of view: sustainable ideas, activism, considering what luxury means and how it affects the planet.”
All clothing by Loro Piana throughout
RACHEL TASHJIAN, Washington Post fashion writer
“There’s a particular obsession in America – one that far predates ‘quiet luxury’ – with identifying the sartorial codes of wealth and telling you they aren’t what you think they are. The most recent version of that is that fashion brands have convinced consumers that certain things are aspirational and that the actual rich do not find those things aspirational. It’s not as simple as that, but even if you were to say that there is a desire for special and/or understated luxury brands that are outside the norm, they’re even more off-the-average-person’s-radar than The Row or Brunello Cucinelli or Loro Piana or Hermès. And again, that’s just one pocket of wealthy people. Others wear decades-old L.L. Bean into the ground, while the customer attendees at a Louis Vuitton show will tell you that there are a lot of really wealthy people who love the world’s biggest luxury brands.
My opinion is that ‘quiet luxury’ is really just a manufactured social media trend responding to our obsessive attention to class and the hegemony of luxury brands – the sense that they should and can be accessible to everyone. That’s upsetting to many different kinds of people for lots of different reasons. (If ‘quiet luxury’ is actually the thing right now, how in the world do you square that with the bombastic and provocative Loewe being the biggest brand in the world? And what about Pharrell Williams’s enthusiastically received Louis Vuitton debut?). Most of what is making The Row or Loro Piana interesting to the fashion world right now isn’t cashmere baseball caps and sweatpants, but beautiful and unusual (or even extraordinary) design.”
KAAT DEBO, Director and chief curator, MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp
“What we call ‘quiet luxury’ today is not new. We’ve seen similar evolutions in the ’90s with designers like Jil Sander, Prada and certainly Martin Margiela for Hermès. What these designers presented was radically different from the spectacle and excess that we saw in the work of designers such as John Galliano. Historian Rebecca Arnold described it as fashion designed for the comfort of the wearer, rather than the eye of the viewer. Thus, it presented a radically different perspective. It was less about the visual or the image, but all about the appreciation and the experience of the wearer.
These fashions, in turn, could be traced back to the sports wear-inspired clothes by Chanel in the ’20s or American designers of the ’50s, such as Claire McCardell. Of course, quiet luxury is also about cultural capital: fashion for those who are in the know, who know to appreciate fine and delicate-cut fabrics. It’s for an elite who does not have to distinguish themselves from others through screaming logos.”
All clothing by Loro Piana. Hair by Stephane Lancien. Makeup by Christelle Cocquet. Manicure by Marie Rosa. Model: Mika Schneider. Production by Erin Fee
This feature was originally published in Mastermind 14 – buy it here.